In Rajasthan, power of ghee fights caste

Ayurveda describes ghee (clarified butter) as nectar and suggests its use for healing. The Hindu scriptures term it an essential requirement for sacred rituals.

But for the dalits of Chakwara village, in Jaipur district, ghee is a weapon against untouchability. The dalits of this village have been cooking their food in ghee for the last 76 years as a mark of protest.

“You can call it a Ghee Satyagarha,” says Harishankar Bairwa, a dalit in Chakwara. “Since 1936, ghee in this village has not been the privilege of only the caste Hindus. We defied their diktat and
resolved to cook our food in ghee,” says Babulal Bairwa, a dalit worker.

“Despite all odds, we use strictly ghee,” he added. In 1936, the village’s dalits had organised a community feast and dishes were cooked in ghee, a privilege of caste Hindus. “Our defiance invited the wrath of the Hindus who considered it an insult,” said dalit rights activist Harinarayan Bairwa.

“Suddenly the caste Hindus attacked the dalits who had gathered for the feast and they threw dust and dirt into the dishes and sweets,” he added.

Dr B.R. Ambedkar also mentioned the Chakwara incident in his writings. “That was the moment our community decided to defy this practice and we started using ghee instead of other edible oils,” says Mr Bairwa.

“Woh ye hi kehte the ki agar aap ghee use karoge to unchi jaat wale kya karenge (The caste Hindus told us, ‘If you cook in ghee, then what will we do),’” said Srikrishan, a dalit from the village Social scientist Rajiv Gupta said ghee became a symbol of dalit pride.

“Sometimes pride makes an object a symbol of identity. We should see the ghee here in that way,” Prof. Gupta added.

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